Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Deadly heroin has likely hit area

Times Leader

County coroner says pain killer fentanyl mix is probably cause of Luzerne man’s death.

Wilkes-Barre - Fentanyl is the new rat poison for heroin addicts.

Spicing up heroin with rat poison, strychnine or other chemicals has long been a practice of dealers seeking to attract customers looking for an even greater high. But sometimes the mix can be deadly – especially if the cut is fentanyl.

Daniel Dominick, 27, died Friday at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital after taking what was likely a fentanyl-heroin mix, according to Luzerne County Coroner’s Office. The Luzerne man’s death placed Wilkes-Barre on a growing list of cities where the deadly heroin concoction has been circulating in recent months.

More than 70 people have died from fentanyl-laced heroin in the Philadelphia area since April, and it’s the same in other major cities. Officials in Detroit have reported more than 80 fentanyl-related fatalities and Chicago has had 60, according to respective law enforcement agencies.

In Pittsburgh, fentanyl-laced heroin is being sold on the street under the name “get high or die tryin’, ” and an increasing number of users are doing just that.

Just 125 micrograms is enough fentanyl to kill an adult – that’s the equivalent of five or six grains of salt. Law enforcement experts say lacing heroin with the painkiller has only come in vogue this year, especially in the past three months.

An undercover narcotics agent for the Philadelphia police said addicts will seek out brands of heroin reputed to be the most potent, and in recent months have been traveling to Philadelphia from all over the state to get heroin laced with fentanyl.

“If there’s an extra kick in it, they look for that brand,” said the agent, who declined to be identified for safety reasons. “They’ll ask for ‘Dracula’ or ‘Nike’ or another brand. The dealers know when it’s cut with fentanyl but they don’t care; not all the customers know.”

According to the agent, users from the Wilkes-Barre area have been getting fentanyl-laced heroin from Hispanic communities on the East side of Philadelphia. “They come from everywhere to get this stuff. They’ll get two or three bundles so they don’t have to make the trip again.”

Although heroin cut with fentanyl has been claiming lives in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh since April, law enforcement officials weren’t sure if it had hit the streets of Wilkes-Barre until a string of overdoses last week culminated in a death Friday. City police and medics responded to approximately 15 drug overdoses last week, including five Friday.

Luzerne County Coroner Dr. John Consalvo can’t prove it was fentanyl that killed Dominick until he gets back a toxicology test in a couple weeks, but he suspects it was.

Fentanyl, some strains of which are hundreds of times more potent than heroin, affects people differently when cut with other drugs. In Friday’s incident, Dominick shared a needle with another man, who took a hit from the same batch of heroin, police said. That man, whose name was not released, showed no signs of a negative reaction.

By John Davidson

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